U.S. Vice President Mike Pence rebuked European powers over Iran and Venezuela on Saturday in a renewed attack on Washington’s traditional allies, rejecting a call by Germany’s chancellor to include Russia in global cooperation efforts.
Describing the results of Donald Trump’s presidency as “remarkable” and “extraordinary”, Pence told senior European and Asian officials the EU should follow the United States in quitting the Iran nuclear deal and recognizing the head of Venezuela’s congress, Juan Guaido, as the country’s president.
“America is stronger than ever before and America is leading on the world stage once again,” Pence told officials at the Munich Security Conference, listing what he described as U.S. foreign policy successes from Afghanistan to North Korea.
Addressing an audience that included Trump’s daughter Ivanka, Pence’s speech was the latest attempt by a Trump administration official to put the president’s “America First” agenda into a coherent policy plan.
European leaders are troubled by Trump’s rhetoric, which they say is erratic and disruptive, citing his decision to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as undermining an arms control agreement that prevented Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
But Pence — who last week during a visit to Poland accused Britain, Germany and France of undermining U.S. sanctions on Iran — repeated his demand for European powers to withdraw from the deal.
“The Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it,” Pence, who also visited the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, told delegates.
“The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal,” he said.
PRESSURE OVER HUAWEI, RUSSIA
Pence also stepped up U.S. pressure on Chinese telecoms gear companies such as Huawei Technologies Co, urging allies to avoid the firms and saying Chinese law requires them to give Beijing access to networks and data.
Huawei has repeatedly denied U.S.-led allegations that its equipment could be used by Beijing for spying, and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi rejected Pence’s comments as he addressed the conference.
“Chinese law doesn’t require companies to install back doors to collect intelligence,” Yang said.
Pence, who used his trip to Europe to push Trump’s policy of favoring sovereign states as opposed to alliances and blocs, took aim at the European Union as a whole, saying “once more the Old World can take a strong stand in support of freedom in the New World” in Venezuela.
“Today we call on the European Union to step forward for freedom and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate president of Venezuela,” he said, calling President Nicolas Maduro a dictator who must step down.
His speech contrasted sharply with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s robust defense of Germany’s foreign trade relations and ties with Russia, urging global leaders meeting in Munich to work together to tackle the world’s problems.
Merkel also found an improbable friend in China’s Yang, one of the architects of Chinese foreign policy, who said the world should “pull together” to address such global challenges.
Speaking before Pence, Merkel questioned whether the U.S. decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal and withdrawal from Syria was the best way to tackle Tehran in the region.
Merkel, who later met Pence for bilateral talks, defended plans for a new natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that Pence again criticized. Pence also told NATO allies not to buy weapons from Russia or China and to spend more on defense.
During a question-and-answer session, she added that it would be wrong to exclude Russia politically, but Pence said Washington was “holding Russia accountable” for its 2014 seizure of Ukraine and what the West says are efforts to destabilize it through cyber attacks, disinformation and covert operations.
“Geostrategically, Europe can’t have an interest in cutting off all relations with Russia,” Merkel said.
Trump has also criticized the large trade surplus that Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has with the United States and has threatened to put tariffs on German cars in return.
“We are proud of our cars and so we should be,” Merkel said, adding, however, that many were built in the United States and exported to China.
“If that is viewed as a security threat to the United States, then we are shocked,” she said, drawing applause from the audience.
Additional reporting by John Irish and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Helen Popper